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Taliban deny Mulla Omar's presence as Pakistan launches probe into missile strike

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Islamabad, Jan 14, IRNA
Pakistan-Taliban
The Taliban on Saturday rejected a report by a Pakistani private television that Taliban leader Mulla Muhammad Omar was likely to be in the Pakistani tribal area, which was bombed by a US plane early Friday killing 18 people.

An American television has reported that a CIA airstrike on a building in Pakistan tribal region of Bajur may have killed Osama bin Laden's most-trusted aide.

Pakistan Geo television quoted an Afghan expert, Rahimullah Yousafzai, as saying Mulla Omar is also thought to be among the foreign guests in the area when it was struck by US missiles.

"Mulla Omar and all other leaders are in Afghanistan and the report about his presence in Pakistan has no basis," Taliban spokesman Dr Muhammad Hanif said on satellite phone from Afghanistan.

"Mulla Omar is in good health and is leading the Mujahideen," Hanif said.

"I categorically reject the report," he insisted, and said that the report was aimed at creating an issue.

Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed refused to confirm an American TV report alleging the Taliban's no. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had been killed, and said investigations were underway.

"As a government spokesman, I can only say that we are
investigating the reports. Wait and see," Rashid told the Geo television.

He said the government of Pakistan was likely to make a statement on the matter within four or five hours.

A US TV report said that the building where Ayman al-Zawahiri was thought to be was in Damadola, a small village near the Afghan border, that was bombed by US planes.

A local also disputed the US TV report and said he attended the funeral of those killed in the US airstrike and did not see any foreigner among them.

"It is very difficult for foreigners to stay in the area as it is not mountainous," Mohammad Shah, a resident of Bajur, said on phone.

Reports suggest that some foreigners were guests in one of the three houses hit by the missiles.

Other reports said that some people had left the area before the attack.

There is also an unconfirmed report that unidentified people took away dead bodies of five people who were also killed in the strike.

Al-Zawahiri has released five video tapes over the past year, including one claiming responsibility for the July attacks on the transit system in London, England.

The US government is offering up to $25 million for information leading to the capture of Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor who is considered to be the intellectual and ideological driving force behind the Al-Qaeda.

He has been associated with Bin Laden since at least 1987, when they met in Pakistan. He also is believed to be Bin Laden's personal physician.

In 1998, Al-Zawahiri merged his own Islamic militant group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, into Bin Laden's organization.

Three months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, US forces attacked Al-Zawahiri's residence in Afghanistan, killing his wife and children.

In March 2004, Pakistani troops launched an assault in Waziristan province, where intelligence indicated Al-Zawahiri was hiding, but failed to capture him.

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